Photo by Emily Long
True story: I was was enrolled in swim classes before I could even walk. So, I guess you could say this was bound to happen. I don’t think anyone expected it to go so far, though.
I’ve decided to embark on the personal challenge of trying every fitness class in existence. Every single one. From aqua cycling to zen yoga and all the trends in between. So far I have documented 110 different classes at 93 fitness studios in eight cities on my blog, The Fit Crasher. I’ve learned a lot about fitness and about myself over the course of this sweaty adventure. But I’ve also discovered some interesting correlations between working out and living a happier life. I encountered countless experiences in yoga and spin class that translate outside of the studio.
Here are six of my favorite six life lessons I’ve learned since embarking on a lifetime of sweat.
You control the tension wheel: Every spin bike comes with a tension wheel. It’s the way riders control the pace of their feet and level of resistance on the wheel. Turn it up, and the pedals feel like they’re pushing through peanut butter. Turn it down, and you’re whirling with ease. The dirty little secret of spin class – and, let’s face it, of life – is that how high or how low you turn that resistance wheel is entirely up to you. Instructors will suggest certain levels. Classmates might goad you on. But the only way the ride gets harder is if you choose to make it that way. Remember that next time you’re asked to tackle a complex project at work, or face a daunting situation like whipping up dinner for 15 people on a moment’s notice. It can be hard or it can be easy. You control the wheel.
Sometimes the smallest gesture has the biggest impact: I never gave much credibility to the ballet barre fitness trend. I came from a background of endurance sports that required hours and hours of training, excruciating conditions, and large commitments of physical and mental energy. Micro movements – those tiny leg lifts and tucks in every barre class – just didn’t seem like they were worth the time. Until I tried it and couldn’t walk properly the next day due to muscle soreness. The lesson here? Don’t underestimate the power of small movements or gestures. That tiny leg lift might work a muscle you never reached before. That “how’s your day going?” to a stranger in the hallway might make their morning. There’s a time and a place for going big, but remember the small stuff too.
Just jump in: I hate morning swim practice. Not the workout itself, but the way it starts: jumping head-first into a pool of cold water. I hate it. Loathe it. Dread it from the moment I get out of practice to the moment I get up to do it again. I work myself into a ball of anxiety on deck, stressing over the agony of just how cold that water will feel when I eventually jump in. Until I jump in, start swimming, and realize I’ve survived. There are lots of situations in my life where I encounter this same morning swim practice mentality, wringing my hands in anxiety and driving myself crazy with the anticipation of being uncomfortable. And to that I say: quit stalling and just jump in already.
Try everything once: As someone who is dedicated to trying every workout out there, this lesson on my list should come as no surprise. The experience that best defines this for me was the time I agreed to participate in a strong man training class. You know, the type of place where very large men and women go to train for competitions that involve pulling cars, flipping truck tires, and throwing boulders. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and, despite the pit in my stomach, agreed to show up. And you know what? I loved it. At five foot nothing and weighing as much as one of those small boulders, I didn’t quite fit in but I had an absolute blast. There’s always something on all of our lists that interests us but we put off because it’s just “not me.” Try it. You might even like it.
Go ahead and laugh: I am not a dancer. I am not graceful, I am not flexible, and the beat of the music and my feet don’t always get along. I used to actively avoid invitations to try a new Zumba, Jazzercise, or Bollywood dance class for fear of being laughed out of the studio. Until I allowed myself to laugh too. And then I realized all of the fun I was missing by choosing to sequester myself with a critical case of taking myself too seriously. Nobody kept me out of those classes – I did. I was my own worst critic and as a result, I was the one missing out. So go ahead and get your groove on, in class and in life. Laugh at those flailing arms and two left feet. And for goodness sake, dance.
Hills happen. Keep going: Running has been one of my life’s most consistent and challenging teachers. It has taught me discipline, mental endurance, patience, and persistence. It has brought me lifelong friends and priceless memories. But one of the most important things I’ve taken away from the sport is a lesson in meeting obstacles with the faith that you can get through them. Hills will happen. Heck, I’ve been on runs when thunderstorms throw trees into my path or trails suddenly turn to mud pits. It happens. The lesson, however, is putting one foot in front of the other with courage and the faith that there’s better terrain ahead. And believe me, there always is.